Most of us, when we hear about custom apparel or graphic tees, we think about screen printed affairs with a layer of some vinyl sitting on top of the material. And it makes sense most people would. After all, it is the main technique of making graphic t-shirts since the 1950s. However, just because there is a standard, that does not mean that they will not change. The introduction of inkjet printing and computers created a new avenue of adding a design to a t-shirt.
So, we will talk about the newest growing form of graphic tee designs, direct to garment printing.
The inventor of the printer introduced the first direct to garment printer in 1996. According to Wikipedia, ” the first commercially available DTG printer named “Revolution”, developed by DIS of Bradenton, Florida, and based on an invention of Matthew Rhome. Rhome had been working on the DTG project for some years and applied for a patent in July 1996. The US patent office granted this patent in August 2000 making it the first DTG patent.“
This was the only one for sale on the market until the initial designer of the printer, Rhome, left the company and worked with Brother to create a better one in 2005. While this printer still worked, it had a short shelf life and clogging issues. They would not introduce an improvement until 2013 in a Chicago exhibition where the Epson F2000. The improvements at the time included a longer shelf life and fixed clogging issues.
As of 2019, the North American DTG market is at a current value of over $2.5 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 10.5% through 2021.
The Process of DTG Custom Apparel
So, now that we know it is a growing industry in the textile printing scene, we need to figure out what it is. Direct to Garment printing is when a printer directly applies the ink to the clothing item with inkjet technology. This concept is like printing on paper, except that it’s on a t-shirt or sweatshirt. The desired design gets printed directly onto the garment with a special printer using water-based inks, which are absorbed by the fibers of the garment.
Advantages of DTG Printing
First, the DTG process is far more cost-effective for small jobs or one off prints. It also does not require the creation of a screen, decreasing the amount of waste and excess work.
Second, with the design aspect of DTG, you can use more detailed images and an increased color pallet compared to the screen printing process. Also, there doesn’t need to be an individual stencil for each color in the image.
Third, the printer applies the ink with thinner qualities so there is an increased detail in color. Also, if the shirt is any color other than white, the printers can create an underlayer of white ink to make the colors pop against the fabric instead of blending into a muddy mess.
Disadvantages of DTG Printing
DTG printers are delicate and work in such high detail that not that economical to use them for mass production jobs. It applies ink directly to the garment, so mass production will mean that you will use up ink a lot faster, increasing your expense.
Also, given the high amount of detail and shading that is involved in DTG means that you want to use this printer for that kind of workload. If you are using simple images or a limited color pallet, you waste that attention to detail, even possibly adding unnecessary errors from a perceived form of shading from the printer or the computer program running the image.
It would be like wasting artist grade oils for a kindergarten art project. They would still have access to good colors, but it will end up with the supplies being misused and the result being messier than intended.
While direct to garment printing in custom apparel is a growing field in custom tees, I doubt that it will replace the standard screen printing process. Instead, it will most likely grow into either a subspecialty for t-shirt printers or will become part of the equipment that will start to become more common in each print shop.
It has its place in custom apparel in Decatur, AL but it isn’t a one size fits all deal. And maybe that is for the best. You don’t want to throw away screen printing if a DTG printer can only handle a certain range of tasks.